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Self-Taught Architect Behind Brooklyn's 'Broken Angel' Faces Eviction

Posted by on Mar. 29, 2013 at 7:36 PM
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Self-Taught Architect Behind Brooklyn's 'Broken Angel' Faces Eviction

Over the past three decades, Arthur and Cynthia Wood turned their four-story home into a work of art. They purchased the brick tenement at the intersection of Downing and Quincy streets in 1979 for $2,100 in cash.

Over the past three decades, Arthur and Cynthia Wood turned their four-story home into a work of art. They purchased the brick tenement at the intersection of Downing and Quincy streets in 1979 for $2,100 in cash.

Courtesy of Chris Wood

The building, which was featured in the film Dave Chappelle's Block Party, once towered nine stories over the street. Arthur took out most of the floors, creating a soaring open space with stained glass windows.

Courtesy of Chris Wood

A New York landmark of sorts is in danger of being wiped off the map. The building now known as Broken Angel was an ordinary 19th-century brick structure until self-taught artist and sculptor Arthur Wood started building on top of it in the late 1970s. Now Wood faces eviction from his own masterpiece — a towering structure that looks like a cathedral built out of salvaged junk.

The building was featured in the film Dave Chappelle's Block Party, which follows the comedian as he puts together a free hip-hop concert in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn in 2004. "It's a monument to Brooklyn, my dear," Cynthia Wood, Arthur's wife, explains to Chappelle.

Chappelle is invited in by the couple, who look like time travelers from the Age of Aquarius. They named their home after a figurine they discovered broken and scattered in the street. Arthur put the pieces back together.

The Woods bought the property in 1979 for $2,100 in cash. They gradually transformed the 19th-century brick building into what's been hailed as a work of 21st-century art.

"He took a tenement and he transformed it with a lot of materials people have classified as discards and tossed away into dumps," says Carl Zimring, who teaches at the renowned Pratt Institute art school a few blocks away. "And turned that into a coherent form of art — a folk art, an art that very much relied on the materials that Brooklyn had to offer."

In its heyday, Broken Angel towered nine stories over the street. Arthur took out most of the floors, creating a soaring open space with stained glass windows.

Old bottles and salvaged glass make up the "stained glass" windows in Broken Angel.

Old bottles and salvaged glass make up the "stained glass" windows in Broken Angel.

Courtesy of Chris Wood

"This is all made from stuff collected from automobile accidents, and broken glass, and whatever," Arthur says. "These are very pretty when the light hits, and it spreads all around."

Not much of Wood's original work is left now. Shortly after the Chappelle film was released, a fire broke out in the tower, which had been built without permits or plans. After that, the New York City Department of Buildings cracked down, hard.

"They were threatening complete demolition of the building," says son Chris Wood, who grew up in his parents' creation. "And they were saying things like, 'We would need cranes because the structure's unsafe, we can't put people in there.' You know, it was a lot of b.s."

In October 2006, Broken Angel's tower caught fire. The New York City Department of Buildings declared the structure was dangerous and sought to demolish the home.

In October 2006, Broken Angel's tower caught fire. The New York City Department of Buildings declared the structure was dangerous and sought to demolish the home.

Courtesy of Chris Wood

The buildings department did not return a call for comment. Hoping to avoid demolition, Arthur struck a deal with a local developer six years ago to turn Broken Angel into condos. The five-story tower was dismantled. But Chris Wood says the developer never held up his end of the bargain, and the bank foreclosed. Cynthia Wood died of cancer in 2010. Now Arthur is facing eviction.

Cynthia Wood died of cancer in 2010. Her husband, Arthur Wood, is once again facing eviction from his home.

Cynthia Wood died of cancer in 2010. Her husband, Arthur Wood, is once again facing eviction from his home.

Courtesy of Chris Wood

"This scares me. It's losing a landmark," says Angelique DeShields, who grew up next-door to Broken Angel. Back when the neighborhood was ravaged by drugs and crime, she says, the Wood family was an inspiration.

"People come here from all four corners of the earth," DeShields says. "People wait, literally wait outside ... for hours waiting for Arthur to show up just to talk to him. That's what you're taking. You're taking a bit of history and very much of our future right away from us."

Like a lot of Brooklyn, the neighborhood around Broken Angel is gentrifying. The property is on the market for $4.5 million. Yet Arthur could walk away with nothing after living in the building for most of the past 34 years.

"I'm damn mad at America," he says. "I don't support any political party. I just support what's right. And what's happened to me is wrong, OK?"

Wood has managed to avoid eviction before. But this time, it may take divine intervention to keep him from losing Broken Angel.

Neon Washable Paint

by on Mar. 29, 2013 at 7:36 PM
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Replies (1-4):
NWP
by guerrilla girl on Mar. 29, 2013 at 7:36 PM

This breaks my heart:(

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Mar. 29, 2013 at 7:39 PM

The clip Broken Angel from Block Party (2005)

This your house?
You know, we're having a concert in front of your house Saturday. You excited?
Yes, and you're welcome to come and rest your loins at any point.
I can come rest my loins in the crib, you heard that?
With a glass of champagne.
Ladies and gentlemen,
today is their fortieth...
Sixth.
Forty-sixth wedding anniversary. Good God Almighty.
Thank you. Hold your applause to the end.
We took a trip on the Staten Island Ferry, a little ocean voyage.
Okay. On the Staten Island...
All right. To Staten Island.
And, as we walked in the streets of Staten Island,
what did we discover in the gutter, but an angel broken in seven pieces.
When we both discovered this,
I turned to him, who was not my husband at the time,
and I said, "It's an omen. It's a sign.
"I'm to marry you, of all people."
Really? And I did. I married him.
And Sunday is our 46th wedding anniversary.
I put that angel back together again.
But after I did, we found the original, of which there may be thousands of them.
The original's rather stiff. Mine is kind of graceful.
So, that's why we call this Broken Angel.
Because this building was wrecked and vandalized
and lying in the street.
And I'm putting it back together again, better than it was.
Because they bought it, it kind of had some sort of meaning.

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Mar. 29, 2013 at 9:04 PM

BUMP!

meriana
by Platinum Member on Mar. 29, 2013 at 9:16 PM

How very sad. From the pics, a very intriquing building.

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